How ‘ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm… after they’ve experienced the big city? That’s what a popular song asked early in the 20th C. How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm? (After They’ve Seen Paree) was a well-known tune during WWI. Written by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis with music by Walter Donaldson, it was published in 1918, and performed by many artists in the post-war years. The song expressed the expansiveness of a generation whose lives had been rocked by a calamitous conflict, but who suddenly had new options for their own lives. The song also expresses the excitement of urban life that many of us feel.
But if we in North America, and elsewhere, are going to produce food sustainably we’ll need to revitalize rural areas, and that will mean helping some people move in the opposite direction — back to the farm. Thankfully, while urban life has its allure, there are those who’d love to have that new, old option. There are those who long for rural spaces and who would happily move to an acreage if small-scale food production offered a decent living. So there are increasing movements today to help young people realize that dream and encourage more to consider farm life.
Just this week I received an email from a health action group, outlining proposed U.S. legislation called the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, to recruit men and woman to become farmers and produce healthy food. There are discussions for modern ‘Homestead Acts’ to help repopulate rural areas. Environmentalist Bill McKibben notes that the number of farms is actually increasing in some parts of the U.S, as serious people begin to realize the role of small-scale agriculture in sustainability. People may have asked 90 years ago how ‘ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, but when Elton John released Goodbye Yellow Brick Road more than 50 years later, singing about a man who happily left city life to return to his plow and his family farm, that album sold more than 30 million copies.
Would you move back to the farm, after you’d seen Paree?
[i] McKibben in Eaarth, p. 174.